Sunday, 16 July 2017

Learning from failure

The final part of Matthew Syed’s series was aired on BBC Radio 4 this lunchtime. In it Matthew developed the theme he also addressed in the two preceding programmes, the importance of learning from mistakes and failures.

Of particular interest this week was his examination of public policy and public services, dwelling for some time on the case of Baby Peter Connelly and the way in which the government of the day, pressured by the tabloid media and poorly informed public opinion, pursued and blamed individuals, rather than trying to find out what went wrong and learning how to avoid a repeat in future.

Matthew described a public sector in Britain which is generally afflicted by an unhealthy fear of failure and unwillingness to learn from mistakes with a knee-jerk tendency towards defensiveness and self-justification. The big egos of policy-makers and senior officials often get in the way of learning and improvement. Fear and blame are widespread.

On the positive side, Matthew did identify one or two examples where the development of policy and practice in the public sector is moving in the direction of being more rational and evidence led. He singled out David Halpern of the Behavioural Insights Team and Gavin Jones of Essex County Council to make the programme's concluding comments. Both clearly understood the importance of learning from failure and recognised its huge potential to revolutionise public services by making them truly effective.

The programme is really worth 30 minutes of your time. A must listen.